No Law School For Old Men

It’s not good that colleges offer majors in nonsensical subjects, like women’s studies. Yes, I’ve been told why it’s worthwhile. No, it’s bullshit. But those of you who attend college for the purpose of feeling safe, validated and valued rather than to learn something have to live with yourselves. This isn’t about you. This is about law students.

Judge Kopf left a comment about what he would say if he taught law school.

If I taught at a law school (a very unlikely scenario), the first statement out of my mouth on the first day of class would be this:

“This is the only warning your will get from me. I herewith advise you, indeed I promise you, that I will offend you. My motivation is didactic, but you have not yet earned the intellectual, moral and ethical chops to question my motivation.. So, if you aren’t willing to be offended, get the fuck out my class now.”

He’s out of touch, but it’s not his fault. He’s just an Article III judge, so there’s no reason why he would understand what it means to be in the Academy. I learned the hard way.

I have fond memories of teaching a group in advanced cross-examination, where one young woman, after being critiqued, demanded to know why her approach wasn’t working.  She took the view that her cross was brilliant and effective, though it was obvious to others in the group, and to me, that it was just awful.  While some students can be given specific tips and pointers, every once in a while there is a kid who is just so utterly lacking in the fundamentals that she needs to start fresh. This was one of those times.

After coming up with some nonsensical positive, she was told that her approach was all wrong and she had to start fresh.  She was outraged, and persistent in arguing that she did a fabulous job.  She thought so, and that was all that mattered. Following Ellen’s instructions, I tried to be positive and constructive, rather than accurate and nip the problem in the bud. Eventually, I had to cut it off, as the student refused to let go.

From the perspective of instruction, this presented a problem. Her tenacity ate up a substantial amount of class time, at the expense of other students, and she was the only one in the room fascinated by herself. The others wanted to get on with their efforts, because they too were fascinated by themselves. A few in the class were quite good, and they were angry that the limited time we had with them was being squandered by one demanding classmate. Me too, as this was a fruitless discussion and the student was never going to accept the fact that she sucked.

But like Judge Kopf, I too was out of touch.  I thought I was there to teach students how to try cases. That was the job when I started teaching at Cardozo.  That was no longer the job.

Shortly after an instructor first arrives at Cardozo’s Intensive Trial Advocacy Program, after settling in with a bagel and coffee, Ellen Yaroshefsky would give a speech about how to critique the students’ performance.  It’s been the same speech for years: First, tell them something they did well. Give them praise. Then, when you tell them what they didn’t do so well, be gentle and constructive. End up on a positive note.

This is the new rule of teaching. Hurt no feeling. 

At the time I heard the words, it didn’t register the way it should have, it was meant to.  This wasn’t just a “give the kiddies a little tummy rub so they don’t start to cry.”  This was  “no matter what, we do not hurt anyone’s feelings. No. Matter. What.”

About seven years ago, I was asked if I wanted to come to flyover country to teach law school.  I rather like the idea of teaching students, but I declined. I knew that I was not of the correct sensibility for the Academy anymore.  I would haul off and say something like, “do you think a judge is going to listen to you whine about how he doesn’t value your opinion after he denies your client’s motion and tells you to move on?”  And “do you think your client gives a damn if your feelings are hurt when it’s his fucking life on the line?”

And boom, I would be out. They would give me negative 27s on my ratings. They would write mean things on the whiteboard on my office door.  They would stage a protest about my massive failure to appreciate the sensitivity of marginalized groups and demand my ouster. And the dean and faculty would agree unanimously that I was not a suitable teacher of law students anymore.

Neither would you be, Judge. Law school is no longer about creating lawyers, but validating the feelings of law students.  The last line of your trigger warning gets it backward:

So, if you aren’t willing to avoid any possibility of offending, get the fuck out my class now.

And it would be the students telling this to you. There’s no law school for us anymore. There’s no law school for old men.

That the client will lose, will be denied effective representation, won’t matter. The only thing that will matter is that they feel good about themselves as they walk out the door.

19 thoughts on “No Law School For Old Men

  1. Marc R

    Why do you care what your reviews would be? Even though you hurt or even broke the feelings of some delicate sunflowers in Brooklyn, another law school still offered you a class. Not every law school grad can practice, but certainly somebody learned from your methods or you wouldn’t get offered a teaching position. I don’t see you being pushed out of the academy; you didn’t give tummy rubs but you didn’t get booted out of the academy.

    1. SHG Post author

      You misunderstand. I don’t care about the reviews (though the tediousness of dealing with the whiners is insufferable). The administration cares deeply. They won’t tolerate curmudgeons who don’t sufficiently value their students.

      There are students who want to learn, want to become great lawyers, and are just as tough as students were before the current trend. But it’s the complainers who ruin it for the rest, and because they make the noise, they get the oil. But most importantly, the administration lacks the balls to tell the infants “no,” and coddles them instead to keep them happy.

      1. Keith

        Yea, the students that are tough will still make it through, but there are other students straddling the fence. The kids that never really had anyone give them that type of feedback before. And from what I see the numbers are growing.

        Having been reprimanded for using the term “indian style” when seeing my 4 year old in her nursery school class (it’s now “criss-cross, apple sauce”), I had an inkling of what was coming. But I wasn’t fully prepared for the colossal waste of time parent-teacher conferences would be. The limited amount of time is now used up with flowery phrases and comments meant to obfuscate the reality of whatever the hell the teacher actually thought of your pride & joy.

        They used to tell my parents things that would help to get me back on the straight and narrow. Not anymore, lest you get offended. I try to raise my kids to be disappointed at failure, see it as a learning experience and to try your best so they have realistic expectations… only to see the work wiped away by everyone getting a trophy in gym class.

        Perhaps a few teachers like you along the way would catch the kids that just don’t know better.

          1. William Doriss

            “The problem for the students who are tough is [comma] they are denied the teachers who would teach them.” Punctuation please! Law schools are passe. They’re finished. The law procession is now only for those who cannot stand the rigors of medical school,… or busyness school. When are you going to get thru your fat little head?
            You are a dying breed. It’s over, and the youngsters know it intuitively, in spit of
            [irregarless of] their so-called feelings. You are beating a dead horse, old-timer that you are. I can just imagine what the youngsters are telling Judge Kopf? Off with his head!

            Today, it’s all about feeling good, and following in the footsteps of Mother Teresa. (Not Teresa Heinz Kerry!)
            P.S., CAPTCHA still not working properly, just like the criminal “justice” system. Ha.

  2. Noxx

    Clearly, the solution is for persons like yourselves to open a private college at an exorbitant rate, and sell the idea that only the best and brightest (with trust funds) deserve to be verbally abused and pummeled into shape for life ahead.

      1. Nigel Declan

        If you put it as “vocally abused”, students might come thinking you are going to criticize them in song. Perhaps that will soften the blow when you have to tell some of them that they don’t have what it takes to make it in this profession.

  3. Dan

    Speaking as someone who was a student a lot more recently than you, you really ought to give it a shot. In my experience there’s still plenty of latitude for academia, compared to, say, the corporate world.

    As of less than 10 years ago when I was in college, the professors were still pretty curmudgeonly, with no sign of abating. When I met with him to review my Aristotle paper, my freshman philosophy professor (not even a professor, a mere lecturer) told me I “have no soul.” One prominent professor – head of his department’s graduate program, no less, and a physically and academically imposing man – was known to roar threats at students for crimes such as standing in hallways.

    1. SHG Post author

      Meh. The atmosphere is intellectually toxic. Much as I would love to teach the kids who want to learn, I find the teacups and snowflakes insuffereable, as in “I don’t have the interest or patience to tolerate them.”

    2. William Doriss

      Funny you should mention this. My Freshman English lecturer said on Day 2 or 3, “I learn more from intercourse with some people than conversation with others!”
      Being a virgin at the time, I was nonplussed (?), but could not wait,… and the rest is History. He altered my life’s course, my outlook on life, w/out even realizing what damage he had done. Ha. We got you beat, Dan!
      This is getting tedious.

      1. Fred Simpson

        Are you sure he didn’t say, “I learn more from intercourse with some people than discourse with others”? That would be 7% cleverer.

        1. William Doriss

          Now that you mention it, Dan?!? Yes. Perhaps 17% cleverer! But this was a long time ago.
          And this is precisely why court testimonies are so unreliable. But I digress. Ha.

  4. pavlaugh

    Don’t lose faith; some of these guys still exist. I graduated about 5 years ago. I had a real Kingsfield-esque professor, in contracts of course. He yelled, made timid students stand at the back of the classroom to project voices, sprayed students with water bottles when they used pronouns, hounded students with questions about the cases, kicked students out of the class (for the day) when they weren’t prepared, and led at least a few students to cry.

    He was by far the most beloved 1L professor, frequently winning student-choice awards at graduation and standing ovations at the end of the year.

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